Theatre Direct began as a twinkle in the eye of Canadian theatre legend David S. Craig. After studying drama in England, Craig moved to Toronto, where he founded Theatre Direct Canada in 1976. His first show, (funded by a $1,000 grant from his mother,) was a solo performance of a piece he wrote called The Clown Who Laughed and Laughed & Laughed. The show proved very popular, and Theatre Direct quickly established itself as one of the largest touring theatres for young audiences in the country.
From the very start, Theatre Direct demonstrated the energy and passion that continue to be its hallmark.
The style of the early shows featured humour, music, magic, mime, and actors playing multiple characters at breakneck speed. Many of the productions were remounted several times over, and toured throughout Ontario and beyond. Shows produced from 1976 through 1981 included:
1976: The Clown Who Laughed and Laughed & Laughed
Written by David Stewart Craig and Patrick Masefield
Performed by David Stewart Craig
Directed by Frank Canino
This beloved Canadian classic tackles the big themes: growing up, sharing, and being friends. The play begins with the clown’s birth from a cloth egg, and ends with the him literally making a friend — a sock puppet! The play toured several times and delighted Theatre Direct audiences for many years.
1978: The Great Canadian Energy Show
Written by David Stewart Craig and the Company
Original songs by Sunshine Jim Chambers
Directed by Isabelle Foord
Wilf: Jerome Ackerman
Peter: David Stewart Craig
Costume design by Delphine White
Stage Manager: Bev Wilson
Peter is visited by the spirits of Energy Past, Energy Present, and Energy Future, who teach him about conserving fossil fuels and developing alternative sources of energy.
All for Beaver Hats
Written by David Stewart Craig and Company
Directed by Richard Greenblatt
Andre Martin: Jerome Ackhurst
Eek-squee-oo: Glyn Davies
Hugh Ross: David Stewart Craig
Costume design by Sue LePage
Set design by Jim Thornley
Stage Manager: Carol Crockford
All for Beaver Hats packed three hundred years of Canadian history into an action-filled and hilarious forty-five minutes. The show, written by David S. Craig, Jerome Ackhurst, and Richard Greenblatt, garnered critical acclaim and helped to build an enthusiastic audience for fledgling Theatre Direct.
The cast of three depicted a multitude of pre-Confederation characters, including famous explorers such as Radisson and Groseilliers — along with a variety of frontier riff-raff, and a slew of British monarchs wearing purple and blue wigs. But the main characters were an English clerk, a French guide, and his Cree wife who reflected the viewpoints of the country’s three founding peoples, and helped to illustrate the fact that all history is subjective.
Songs, humour, inventive choreography, and rapid-fire scene changes characterized the show, which was aided by colourful costumes from Sue Lepage and Jim Thornley’s versatile Group of Seven-inspired set. The Globe & Mail called the original production “as zany as Monty Python.”
All for Beaver Hats toured throughout Ontario several times from 1978 through 1981. The show also had a landmark tour to England, West Germany, and the Netherlands in 1981, where it was a smash hit. All for Beaver Hats is still delighting audiences today, as evidenced by the summer 2016 production by the Festival Players in Prince Edward County.
“Not a false move in the whole show.” -Globe & Mail, Toronto
“One of the most palatable and entertaining Canadian history lessons imaginable.” -Ottawa Citizen
“A fast-paced, funny, and colourful voyage through the history of the Canadian fur trade.” -Montreal Gazette
1980: The Return of the Curious Clown
Written by Robert Morgan and David S. Craig
Directed by David S. Craig
Performed by Robert Morgan
The Curious Clown wants to sing, but is worried that he doesn’t have enough experiences to sing about. Aided by his unicycle, Moses, and his puppet Fred, the clown learns to sing about his feelings.
1980: The Case of the Dreamburger Dilemma
Written by David Stewart Craig
Original songs by Deborah Dunleavy
Directed by William Lane
Private Detective Fresh Daily: Robert Morgan
Count Dreamburger: Jerome Ackhurst
Icebox: George Axon
Stage Manager: Carol Crockford
Evil Count Dreamburger has stolen one of the food groups, and gumshoe Fresh Daily must track him down so that Canadian kids will be able to eat a balanced diet.
1981: The Friendship Fable
Written by Robert Morgan
Directed by David Stewart Craig
Ariel, a female clown: Maureen Rooney
Fergy: Robert Morgan
Mime, puppetry, magic, music, speech, and sound help to tell this tale of a clown who is spellbound by a witch, but saved by friends. This production was sponsored by the Ontario Human Rights Commission for promoting tolerance and understanding of peoples’ differences. It was revived in 1985 and toured widely.